The cheese mine holds a dear place in the hearts of Kolibris. It started as an April Fool’s joke back in 2017. “What if our hard-working miners could take a break from mining gold, diamonds and topaz and dig into a cheese mine?” Well, due to overwhelming player excitement, our “what if?” turned into our first-ever event mine and put us on a course of weekly event updates that shape the game to this day.
So it’s safe to say that we like cheese and this September we brought the cheese mine back. The return of our beloved cheese mine got us thinking about the development of Idle Miner Tycoon’s art direction and the roles our artists play in making each new mine.
The original, 2017 cheese mine.
How the cheese gets made
Every event mine starts with a concept. For the cheese mine, it was fairly straightforward – a landscape made of cheese. In keeping with the tone of our game, it should be friendly, fun and delicious. But what exactly does a cheese-scape look like? Are the trees made of cheese? Shredded cheese on the ground instead of grass? Are the buildings huge blocks of gouda? Our artists could realize any of these ideas, and dozens more, so we have to narrow it down. So before starting to sketch, our artists look for references to help turn the vague idea of a “cheese-scape” into a piece of finished game art.
Only one of these is also a cheese-scape, but all three have some interesting choices to learn from (our artists generally pull dozens of reference images, these three are just a sample). Here we can see how other artists have built landscapes out of food, made color choices that break up the monotony of an all-yellow cheese world, and used focal points to delineate fore, middle and backgrounds.
Now, armed with a concept and some references, it’s time to open up Photoshop and start sketching!
At this stage our artists might create anywhere from two to four sketches, which are presented along with a recommendation, to project management. The sketches need to be on-concept and fleshed-out enough to understand, but rough enough that our artists can create and present them within our sprint timeline. The sketches should also be different from each other and in this instance, you can see two unique takes on a dairy-based landscape.
Which looks tastier? A sunset river valley filled with cheese wheels, giant fondue forks, and fed by a dairy waterfall, or rolling cheese hills leading to a quaint European (probably cheese-filled) castle?
We went with the quaint cheese-filled castle.
Now the artists take the sketch and render a full background, with foreground elements for the warehouse workers to walk past, a middle-ground focal point that – being a cheese-topped castle – helps to reinforce the theme, and a background hinting at hidden cheese territories beyond the (cheese) mountains.
Dropped into the game it looks like this:
Our artists’ jobs don’t stop here though. Next up are the offers! Every event mine has three customized store offers. Naturally, these also start with a handful of sketches.
Artists can go any direction they want with the offer concepts, so long as the boost image is prominently displayed and the offer looks appealing. The art team pitches 6-9 options to PM, along with their recommendation.
Once three are picked – the Small Offer, Big Offer and Tycoon Offer – it’s time to paint. On a typical event mine, we may have three different artists working on all the assets. And let’s not forget that we’re working remotely, so we’re not even in the same studio together. As such, it’s essential to sync things like color palettes and character templates so that players see a seamless cheese-based world.
“I had the rough concept of the offer in front of me so it’s easier for me to create a more refined sketch of that. Since we have a base of the characters, I put the manager-base in the offer in the correct size, this way he’s a good baseline to figure out how thick the outlines of the other things in the graphic should be. After drawing the manager I tackle the cheese and table by creating its lineart and filling it with color and shadow. Lastly, I put the boosts in place as well as the money, cash and sparkles. Small fixes like fixing the light or colors if needed is saved until everything is done as it’s easier to see what works and what doesn’t when you see the whole picture.” (Aurora G)
“My goal was to make the cheese look as delicious and shiny as possible. I searched for references looking at the different colors and shapes cheese can have, the hardest part was trying not to get hungry! It was a lot of fun creating the offers, and satisfying to see how it turned out.” (Marie H)
All three offers as they appear in-game.
As our players, and careful observers of the screenshots, know, it’s not only the backgrounds that are customized for each event. We reskin the warehouse and refinery, paint new dirt and soil layers and create new resources (blocks of cheese in this case) and coins – all themed to the event. We have templates for all of our in-game items and our artists update them weekly to make sure they’re on-theme and implemented properly in Unity.
Implementing new art is also part of our artists’ jobs. That includes properly documenting each new color code used in a background or asset, and updating music, animations and particles in Unity. For a game artist at Kolibri Games, the last step isn’t closing Photoshop! Once all of the assets are properly set-up in Unity, they jump into Git, pull the most recent build and push the updated art. At that point, it’s in QA’s hands and our artists get a bit of a break before moving onto the next event mine.
Idle Miner Tycoon is currently (as of this writing) on its 127th event mine. Our artists haven’t come close to running out of ideas for new mines, new resources and new offers. Grab your phone and see what mine’s live now. It’s bound to whet your appetite!
Want to join our art or product team, to bring the next event mine – or next game idea – to life? Look below for some current openings and head over to our jobs page for the full list of open positions.